TEES helping to keep Austin green

August 14, 2009
| By: Aubrey Bloom

Researchers from the Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL) at the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) are helping Austin go green.

They have developed a web-based tool called Texas Climate Vision (TCV) to test the energy efficiency of new houses in Austin. Builders can use this software to confirm the energy efficiency of house plans before construction begins.

In 2008, Austin began implementing a new energy code, which aims to improve the energy efficiency of new homes by 65 percent through energy-efficient roofing, lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. All new houses built in Austin must conform to this code.

Energy-efficient buildings ease the strain on power plants, thus curtailing harmful CO2, NOx and SOx emissions — the main culprits behind global warming. Although the initial cost of building energy-efficient houses can be relatively high, the energy saved by such homes translates into big savings on power bills for residents.

"States such as California and Florida, which have strong building codes, have already seen an upswing in energy savings. It’s important for owners of new homes to understand that by paying now, they can save a lot later," said Don Gilman, an assistant research engineer at ESL.

Using data from house plans, TCV simulates a model of the proposed house. The software then estimates the energy efficiency of the simulated house and calculates the reduction in harmful emissions based on energy savings. After construction is complete, certified third-party inspectors certify the home’s construction as meeting or exceeding the energy code. Once a month, Austin Energy, the city-owned electricity supplier, receives a report on all inspected homes and their energy savings.

"The current software can simulate conventional houses, not glass houses such as those commonly built overlooking Lake Travis. It also does not calibrate for lifestyle differences," Gilman said. "For example, you might use energy-efficient water heaters, but if you’re going to take long hot showers, your air conditioners will still have to remove the heat from the house, thus costing you more."

TCV is an offshoot of IC3, another energy-code compliance software developed by ESL, which is used across Texas. TCV was developed by TEES ESL in partnership with Austin Energy, Texas HERO and the U.S. Department of Energy.

TEES is the engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

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